New TheoryBoard Is A MIDI Controller Based On Music Theory

Irijule has introduced a new MIDI controller, based on music theory, the TheoryBoard.

At first glance, the TheoryBoard looks similar to other types of MIDI controllers – with 93 velocity-sensitive pads, an illuminated LCD display, and DIN/USB/Bluetooth MIDI connectivity. 

What’s different about the TheoryBoard is its emphasis on music theory. The controller can be set to any of 860+ scales, and controller will automatically adapt to playing chords and melodies in that scale.

Pricing and Availability

The TheoryBoard is being produced via a Kickstarter project. It’s available to project backers for $350 (‘Earlybird’ price). Irijule is a startup, so review the Kickstarter project page for information about the company and the status of their design.

37 thoughts on “New TheoryBoard Is A MIDI Controller Based On Music Theory

  1. Well-done video, and it seems they have working prototypes and real people using them.
    But out of curiosity, why does so much new technology focus on “music without learning” as if learning music is a form of torture?

    1. Watch this:

      Tools like this device are the equivalent to a word processor.

      Comments like yours are akin to saying:

      “Why does everyone insist on writing without knowing how to properly mix their ink or sharpen their quills! What’s so hard about killing your own raven anyway?”

      Or digital cameras and tools like Photoshop vs. film, darkrooms, emulsions, toxic chemicals, etc. etc.

      If there are tools that allow someone to make music that is pleasing to them to listen to and play, then who gives a royal *&^% how much time they did or didn’t spend shedding to get there?

      The opportunity cost of spending potentially YEARS to learn scales, theory, and then applying that to muscle memory on your instrument(s) vs. spending that time actually having FUN MAKING MUSIC is for most people a no brainer. Of course lots of people find it more “fun” to learn the theory etc.

      But if an interface like this can lower the barrier to entry to allow people to “get music out” then it allows more people to do it… Thus more people will buy synths and sound sources to actually play with this device. Thus a larger market for instruments, thus more reason for manufacturers to either produce new devices or to be able to offer lower prices on existing lines due to higher demand.

      How is any of that worthy of elitist scorn?

      1. Your analogies are over-the-top, Drumunkey.

        This isn’t like a word processor, it’s a bit more like magnetic poetry (those whole words that people scramble around on a fridge to make poems). That’s not a dis. It’s like you say, not everyone wants to study poetry, and they might rather have the words already laid out on a refrigerator for them.

        The point you make about it lowering the bar for entry is totally valid. This can be thought of as a gratifying way for kids to make music without the risk of playing a wrong note. Or for adults who were shut out of the music learning process because notation reading was too difficult. Or just people who don’t want to engage anything analytical when being creative.

        Garageband’s iPad app has a diatonic chord picker (mostly triads) but it works similarly. (But it doesn’t have the constrain-to-scale melody side. )

        It’s not elitist to suggest that learning music theory can be fun.

        But I will say something elitist: If you are going to call your product a “TheoryBoard”, you should know your theory.

        1. Just to chime in here. I think the product is very well-thought out. It’s an excellent design, possibly the best implementation I’ve seen for a hardware product looking to simplify chord/melody construction.

          I also believe that this tool can be a VERY effective theory learning device. Let’s face it, a lot of people struggle with theory because it is not immediately beneficial to their creativity. In fact, it’s very restrictive.

          Most people begin learning chord theory 1 shape at a time. (First all the triads, then all the sevenths, then the 9ths, 11ths, 6s, sus chords, and if they’re lucky they’ll get to neapolitan and such). This can be frustrating because it can take a really long time before you see how all these chords work together in different scales to create harmonic relationships. Instead, people just end up “winging” it anyways rather than put their knowledge to use.

          This device can help someone understand the harmonic relationships, then look at the chords like “OOooh, that sounds nice. What is that? Oh a (V)m – (IV)sus4 is nice there. I’ll have to remember that.” Then they can go and see what notes truly make up the chords. Then they can try those same shapes in different keys… I think you see where I’m going.

          We should stop looking at devices that “simplify” music theory as a bad thing. I think it is very much useful for beginners and advanced composers alike.

          Even if I hate the phrase “every chord which music theory will allow” it’s technically accurate. Music theory is a set of rules, this board adheres to those rules. An expert can decide when to break the rules.

          I also noticed a lack of 11th and 13ths, which of course could be considered redundant but I don’t think so. However, you could use the “melody” side to add the additional note that the chord side lacks, so….

          Personally I want one. And I spent years grueling over music theory at a piano. Nothing wrong with tech like this IMO. In almost any way.

          1. We can agree that learning music theory is challenging. Learning scales and the chords that go with them is also challenging– much learning hundreds of them. Having a tool that just does it for you (sort of), is perfectly worthwhile.

            No mathematics buff is going to say that a calculator will prevent you from learning math. And no music teacher is going to say that this will prevent you from learning how chords relate.

            As someone who is still learning, I can just say that learning to play the chords myself is fun. Having a robot play the chords for me is less fun. But not an invalid way to work.

    2. As the video says- “music theory is confusing”. Of course that’s an overstatement, but for a noob it’s pretty much true. Confusion isn’t a form of torture.

      “Music without learning” is something you leapt to, but remember this is an instrument that won’t make a bad musician good (it won’t fix bad timing & notice how it isn’t velocity sensitive?). What it offers is practically offer up chords that you may not normally reach for, so this is perfect for breaking habits even pros fall into when composing.

  2. Looks pretty cool and way more tactile than a lot of the existing chord theory applications currently available. I use Cubase chord assistant and Xfer Cthulhu from time to time, but almost always prefer using chord mode in Maschine out of sheer simplicity. Its such a great and quick way to sketch out ideas.

    For someone who doesnt have any formal musical training, this kind of thing could be pretty useful. Not sure about the price though.

  3. That’s way cool. please add MIDI out/in for us hardware heads. oh and we need to send Program Change messages to it for changing keys. Thanks.

    Now i can play something live!

  4. I would definetly use this. I have been programming my music for 13 years and this works allow me to arrange quicker, while still being able to rearrange for blue notes and dissonance. I would buy one of these. I will day that although I love the concept it still leaves a non player in the dust when they aren’t the ones leading the band. If I walked into a room of players and I wanted to join in it wouldn’t be possible unless I could improv my way into the key they were playing in… but unless someone stopped the band, asked what key they were in so I could file through 800+ options…well honestly that seems disruptive. I’ll give the demo a 9/10 for that because I’d mostly be focusing on production with this. Awesome product!!! A way I think they could get around this is for a setting to set the key/scale. Basically if they lit up the display in the form of a traditional keyboard that would sound notes when I audition them, I could fiddle around with the keyboard until the notes that worked were highlighted, much like listening and only using the notes that “sound right” that way the machine could take that input, you press enter, and the machine calibrates, letting you join in on the band. I hope they are reading this!

  5. May 2018, so end of next year then?

    Whats wrong with chordBot.

    Burnt too many times by this kickstarter bollocks

    1. “Burnt too many times by this kickstarter bollocks”

      Same here my friend. I’ve ponied up for a bunch of Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects and here it is years later, I’ve never received a single product. All the outfits just wandered off, some with a few updates showing alleged progress followed by the universal “unexpected problems with manufacturing” post that characterizes the last update we tend to see with each of these. In every case it was with people with apparently full working prototypes and a track record. Death knell for some was the decision to add a bunch of stretch goals based on supporter feedback, leading to a redesign from scratch of the prototype. Others though just disappeared.

      Regardless of their good intentions when they started, the level of preparation and lack of ability to follow through regardless or when they get bored or run out of money moves this entire field into the “fraud” category. Attorney generals should be investigating these firms and also look at criminal prosecution of Kickstarter and Indigogo’s owners and management since they have sat around collecting fees and issuing disclaimers while their customers get fleeced. They are completely aware of what is going on and enabling it. Disclaimers don’t absolve companies of liability for fraud and statements of good intentions aren’t relevant compared to actions.

      Also Synthtopia and the rest of media is morally liable as well. They are perfectly aware of what is going on, yet keep promoting these boondoggles, and benefiting from the traffic.

      Fixing this wretched system is possible, though clearly there is no desire to do so. Here’s couple suggestions. Projects to be listed must have a full working manufacturing prototype, including manufacturing samples, and a signed contract with a manufacturer stating the cost for the target quantity. Companies will pay Kickstarter an evaluation fee which will go to pay a licensed Professional Engineer to verify that the product works and the design complies with engineering standards and legal requirements such as FCC and UA certification. A licensed CPA and qualified lawyer will be paid to verify the manufacturer’s contract is legit, the company is properly organized, and the manufacturing is attainable and viable at the given price. Then it can be listed on Kickstarter. The company will also provide a list of their assets. If funding is successful and the product is not delivered, then the funders will receive complete ownership of the intellectual property related to the product, including schematics, source code, board layouts, design files, trademarks, etc, so that any customer who wishes to can then produce the product on their own if they desire to.

  6. I wish people realized that music theory is much, much more than just which chords fit into which scale. What about cadences? Voice leading? Counterpoint? This is not “All of music theory condensed into 1 MIDI controller”. It won’t even give you borrowed chords. It’s more like “the first half of Music Theory 101”.

    I mean, it seems fine for what it is. I just wish they didn’t try to hype this up as something that it’s not.

    1. YES!!!! I completely agree!! Well said.

      Also, no rhythm, no alt bass notes, no add 2, add 4, polychords, etc.

      As you say, it is what it is, but there’s no need to over-hype it.

      Most apps dumb things down, too much. To their credit they are adding new scales and chord options for people whose musical tastes are limited to major, minor, minor pentatonic and major pentatonic, maybe dorian and mixolydian. But that note-spelling thing isn’t that complicated to explain or understand.

      1. it has inversions and add9&11 chords, whoch you would have seen if you looked. also the vast majority of music doesn’t need polychords, and quite a lot of music requires no understanding of counterpoint, voice leading, or traditional cadence structure. In pop music, voice leading is limited to nonexistent, counterpoint almost doesn’t exist, and block chords like these are everywhere. This gives the contemporary songwriter (not composer) the basic tools they need to write music. In my case it is great for drafting chord progressions and melodies before you start building a full track

  7. Dude, that was FREAKING AWESOME! Just glancing at it and hearing what it could do caused musical ideas to come pouring forth. It’s amazing what factors can ignite the immediate yearning to go program + play.

  8. those buttons do not look comfy to play (they are from Livid right, ok as triggers but too chunky to be ideal for fast strikes)
    sure it has more scales than push but hmmmmmm dat price dat timeline

    KordBot FTW

  9. I feel like the same thing is achievable with a Komplete Kontrol 25, which is in a similar price range. Also, you can see which keys make up the chords you’re playing. #bonuslearning

    Still waiting on a Kickstarter from a year ago, so I’m officially over putting up money like this.

  10. Just learn about harmony and how to play a keyboard. In a world full of oboes and sarangis and theremins and opera and tablas, it’s just not very hard. Don’t let your musical expression be confined by the play-by-colors approach on one controller built by people who don’t themselves need to operate within it. Aspire to more.

    1. I dunno, I’m a pretty proficient keys player, learned a bit of classical, played a bunch Jazz Funk jams, am presently studying Jazz standards and reharmonisation, but I still might use this, or something similar. Just because it gives you a different topology and approach to making music. There’s a bunch of tunes I’ve written using the qwerty keyboard, because I was mobile at the time and had no access to a piano keyboard and the melodic and interval shape is quite different to what I would have written more conventionally. So for me, this is more of an alternative approach rather than a replacement for normal keys.

        1. Agreed. As with any system, there are limitations. It’s the sort of thing I might actually use in conjunction with other more conventional tools, just to start in a different place, with another mindset, then see where I end up from there .

        2. Which is what traditional western music theory and a piano does to the potentially infinite possibilities in the frequency spectrum, especially for microtonal and noise peoples. I suppose the question becomes *how much* limitiation you want rather than *if* you’re limited.

          1. I don’t expect this or any thing to be limitless. Marketers can and should be careful not to over-hype what a device offers.

            This device has a clear and logical set of capabilities that will help both seasoned musicians and noobs

  11. It has potential to be a useful product.

    The first thing to fix is the note spellings. By using # and b correctly, diatonic scales will go in alphabetical order– E F# G A B C D (as opposed to E Gb G A B C D, where you have no F and two Gs). If you are making a theory box, this is really basic.

    It has 860+ scales, perhaps they mean 72 scales in 12 different keys (?) , but they chose such boring examples. It would have been cool if they had a little more variety in the demonstrations. Since it is a MIDI controller, they can’t implement tuning maps, but that would be cool if they could.

    I don’t want to nitpick, but defining a chord is just a little messier. A chord doesn’t necessarily have to play all at once, and it isn’t necessarily “deeper” if it is. A chord can be played at once, or broken, or arpeggiated and it still gives you all the mojo.

    The subject of music theory is pretty vast. This device takes a scale, puts a selection of chords on the left, and the notes of that scale on the right. In the real world of music, it is normal to change keys and scales frequently in a piece of music, and to have non-scale tones happen through out. I suspect that this device will have some potential to toggle between scales, and perhaps have a completely user configurable experience where you could edit EVERYTHING, the scale selection, the chord selection, the key layout, etc.

    But I guess the appeal is to let the device do most of the work.

    1. I wouldn’t put it beyond the ability of this box to both move through inversions and remove the less characteristic notes from a chord. Probably also arpeggiate. Imagine if one of those white utility pads flipped the chord-side display layout to a step seq for each note in the chord… that would be very useful. Although, trying to remember a state (or multiple states) for each chord would require a fair amount of memory.

  12. Not sure about the pads, but it’s great to see more developers that make music theory accessible to those that didn’t have the opportunity to spend their childhood at music school. Imagine how these tools could advance in the next ten years and how many people they could empower to create great music! Good times.

  13. Very good video, nice controller and cool idea.
    In my improvised way of composing and performing I do a lot of intuitive modulations, and I suspect that is the weak side of this device. Otherwise: very good.

    1. Exactly. You can’t. (Although, perhaps they could add a function where some modifyer-button press can let you play a non-scale tone)

  14. Theoryboard or PracticeBoard. Looks like it’s purpose is more to tell you which notes to play than to explain WHY you play those notes. For the money you can buy some good theory books and a keyboard. (a 2nd hand synth with a nice keybed, not the cheap new plastic stuff)

    BTW most music is played using only a few scales, many folks who make music don’t know scales and theory and software can auto-correct. So think,what $799 can add value or speed up what you can do with less expenses or a bit more effort ?

    In this age, companies and vendors are pushing up prices to see as far as they can get (see phones) to see what the fool will pay. And fools outnumber others, mostly. the argument made is it does not matter what is cost, or the cost/price difference, it matters what it can do (forgetting how you can achieve the same in other ways, or if you really need it).

    Ouch, forgot we live in the age where you cannot have negative comments or have doubts or voice a different opinion before being blamed being “weird”. We live in a world where everything is great and so cool and you need to comply with group, collective and community thinking, Everyone is equal. So, to revise: YES ! finally… waiting for this for so long. For what it can do it’s such a bargain, Get it ! I want to get one ! Excellent, Amazing, so cool !

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